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Understanding Male Breast Cancer

Cancer occurs when cells in the body change (mutate) and grow out of control. These cells can form lumps called tumors. They can also spread into nearby tissues and to other parts of the body. Cancer that starts in cells that make up the breast is called breast cancer. Breast cancer is rare in men, but it does happen.

What causes male breast cancer?

Experts are not exactly sure what causes male breast cancer. But certain things can increase your risk. These include:

  • Being over age 60

  • Having had radiation to the chest to treat a different cancer

  • Having high levels of the hormone estrogen

  • Having a family history of breast cancer (in male or female relatives)

  • Having certain gene mutations, like the breast cancer genes called BRCA1 and BRCA2

  • Having Klinefelter syndrome, an inherited condition

  • Heavy alcohol use

  • Having liver disease

  • Being obese

Symptoms of male breast cancer

Symptoms of breast cancer in men are a lot like the symptoms in women. They include:

  • A lump in the breast or under the arm that can be seen or felt

  • A change in skin over the breast or nipple, like redness or scaly-looking skin

  • Dimpling or puckering of the skin over the breast

  • A nipple that becomes pulled in (retracted)

  • Discharge from a nipple

Many of these may be caused by other health problems. Still, it's important to see a healthcare provider if you have these symptoms. Only a healthcare provider can tell if you have cancer.

Treatment for male breast cancer

There are a number of treatments for breast cancer. The best treatment for you depends on things like the type of breast cancer you have, where the tumor is, and if the tumor is affected by certain hormones, like estrogen. The stage and grade of the cancer also matters. The stage is how much cancer there is and how far it has spread (metastasized) in your body. The grade is used as part of staging. It gives you an idea fast the cancer will grow and spread.

The most common treatments for male breast cancer are:

  • Surgery. Most men have surgery to remove the entire breast containing the tumor. Nearby lymph nodes and sometimes chest wall muscle may also be removed.

  • Radiation therapy. High-energy X-rays are used to kill cancer cells in the breast or slow their growth.

  • Chemotherapy. Strong drugs are used to kill cancer cells throughout the body or slow their growth.

  • Hormone therapy. Medicines are used to keep certain hormones the body makes from helping cancer cells grow.

  • Targeted therapy. These medicines focus on, attack, and kill cancer cells while limiting the damage to healthy cells.

Many times, more than one kind of treatment is used.

To learn more

To learn more about male breast cancer, these resources may help:

Online Medical Reviewer: Kimberly Stump-Sutliff RN MSN AOCNS
Online Medical Reviewer: L Renee Watson MSN RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Preeti Sudheendra MD
Date Last Reviewed: 1/1/2022
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